In their ten-year-long effort to move me out of my old high school bedroom, my parents have occasionally dropped off boxes of my old “stuff.” So far I’ve received boxes of baseball cards (one of dozens), books, magazines, Super Nintendo and Genesis games, CDs, Transformers and now cassette tapes — a big ole shoebox full of cassette tapes, almost all of which are dubs. Plenty of the cassettes are completely free of label. So it might take me some time to go through them all. But I’ve found three labeled tapes, three labeled mixtapes, in the lot. I’ve created Spotify playlists for each. I’ve not “bettered” the mixes in any way. The awful tracks remain, blemishes on my taste (and lack thereof) as a teenager. What you see here is the track order as they were created from 1993-1996. Enjoy these time capsules (or not), these (ugh) plastic windows into my teenage schizophrenia.
The Mixtape Project: Volume 1, CAFFEINE
I drank my dad’s cold coffee when I was five. It should come as no shock that by the time I reached high school I was naming mixtapes “Caffeine.”
“TNT” – AC/DC
I played AC/DC Live a lot. It was and still is the only AC/DC album I’ve ever owned. Any AC/DC album cut sounds odd to me. I can’t think of another band for which this is true.
“Judgment Night” – Onyx and Biohazard
Frankly I’m shocked this is the only song on this mix from the Judgment Night Soundtrack.
“Sabotage” – Beastie Boys
Check Your Head was my first real exposure to the Beastie Boys. Looking back I can’t remember a time before the Beastie Boys because this song opened the floodgates for obsession. An omnipresent MTV staple, friends called friends to tell them when the video was on.
“Bring the Noise” – Public Enemy and Anthrax
The Public Enemy only version of “Bring the Noise” is good, but without the Anthrax guitars, it’s not “Bring the Noise.” For a brief period, and likely due to Judgment Night, all of my favorite rap songs had heavy guitar.
“Batdance” – Prince
My parents were convinced the lyric “Get the funk up” was actually “Get the fuck off.” At the time I didn’t know what it was but I couldn’t convince them otherwise based on the lack of a parental advisory warning on the album. I continue to love this song shamelessly.
“Battery” – Metallica
I was listening to “Battery” between games at the Harmarville Hoops 3-on-3 tournament and waiting for the next game on a court. I had this song blasting in my headphones, but a dude broke his leg on the hoop base right in front of me. I heard the snap over everything else. That *snap* still haunts me. And I can’t hear “Battery” without thinking about it.
“Mama Said Knock You Out” – LL Cool J
I suspect that when I’m old and senile and every other detail has disappeared I will remember the lyrics to “Baby Got Back” and “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
“Great White Buffalo” – Ted Nugent
So my parents used to work for Ted Nugent, running a farm in Southwestern Michigan. Yes. I grew up on a farm. Moving along. I have a sneaking suspicion that my first concert was a Ted Nugent show. If all you know about Ted Nugent is “Cat Scratch Fever, you may be impressed with “Great White Buffalo,” a track originally written during the Amboy Dukes days. Or you’ll just consider it crappy 70’s guitar rock. And you’d probably be right either way. Footnote: I don’t care about anyone’s politics here. This is about Ted Nugent playing guitar.
“Scalped” – Dick Dale
Thanks to “Miserlou” appearing in Pulp Fiction I bought CDs from five or six different surf guitarists. Dick Dale’s essentially the beginning and end of this conversation for any0ne interested in the microgenre. Dale released this album in 1994 and it was just as righteous as his old stuff.
“Drum Trip” and “Ecstacy” – Rusted Root
For a period of two years here in Pittsburgh, Rusted Root might as well have been the Beatles. They were local celebrities and everyone recognized them. Hell, I sat across the aisle from them at a U2 Popmart show at Three Rivers Stadium. I was obsessed with the drums that opened the album When I Woke and segued into “Ecstacy.” Thus the two came as a pair to close out the first side of this mixtape.
“Another Day” and “Take the Time” – Dream Theater
That there are only two Dream Theater songs on a mixtape called “Caffeine” that I made sometime in 1995 is somewhat of a miracle. Including “Another Day” as the leader on Side B is just pure laziness because I liked the lead in to “Take the Time.” Have an original thought, 1995 self.
“Coma” – Guns ‘n Roses
That I’d blow ten minutes of quality mix time on this song is a mystery. Rule #6 of mixtape creation, don’t waste ten minutes on a song that’s not m’f’ing epic. I don’t remember ever really liking this song, but apparently for a fleeting moment in time, my G’nR fix came from this 10-minute burner off of Use Your Illusion I.
“Don’t Ever Tell Me That You Love Me” – Huey Lewis
I went all the way back to Huey Lewis’ debut record for this kinetic New Wave popper. It’s not shocking. As you may well know (faithful reader), I’m obsessed with Huey Lewis and he used up almost all of his energy on that debut, self-titled record.
“Slam” – Onyx
Man. Before DMX came along and made every rapper look like wussies, Onyx sounded hard. Their style was brand new in 1995 (and still never really duplicated). I’m disappointed in my extremely obvious choice of Onyx songs, but it’s hard to beat “Slam.” And don’t neglect their undersold, underappreciated second record.
“Superstition” – Stevie Wonder
A great song. But out of left field much? Did I even listen to Stevie Wonder in 1995? I certainly don’t remember even having one of his albums. I must have gone raiding my parents’ stash. Hell I don’t even really listen to him now.
“The Girl Tried to Kill Me” – Ice T
I’ve always been on team Ice Cube in the battle of the Ices, but out of all the early Ice T tracks, this is the one. And the only one I would have ever picked for a mix. Also note the guitar. Kind of a running theme in these rap song selections.
“Scandalous” – Psycho Realm
From the soundtrack to Mi Vida Loca. The movie sucked. But the soundtrack deserved more press. The bands you knew phoned it in, but the groups you didn’t know and don’t remember provided some interesting tracks — Psycho Realm (before B-Real got his hands on them), Shootyz Groove and Funkdoobiest included. This was Psycho Realm’s first recorded track and reeks of a solid Cypress Hill tribute band.
“Partyman” – Prince
“Gentleman. Let’s broaden our minds… Lawrence!” Another choice cut from the Batman soundtrack to conclude the tape. Another mixtape staple, “Partyman” showed up whenever I needed to wrap up a short remainder. You’d be surprised how many times you need a three-minute song for filler.
Rock, rap and Batman… and then there was Rusted Root, Huey Lewis and a moonlighting Stevie Wonder – who must have stumbled onto the tape looking for the (now lost) Soul Mixtape because he fit the required time stamp. Unfortunately this mix hit a short time before I discovered electronic music. What this mix desperately needs is some Prodigy and some Gravity Kills… but alas, both were yet undiscovered.
Side A starts strong. Four tracks I could legitimately put on a similar mix today. “Batdance” puts a kink in the method, but it could have survived had I followed Prince up with something less jarring than “Battery.” Three pairs of tracks from the same album = lazy. The Rusted Root pair works since they blend into each other. I shame my sixteen year old self for not venturing out into the depths of the CD library for a few more deep cuts, like Psycho Realm’s largely forgotten track on the B-side. Speaking of the B-side…
Side B’s a damn mess. A ten-minute track. A pair of unlinked songs from the same Dream Theater album. The Ice T song feels out of place. Stevie Wonder? Why not just throw some goddamn Bee Gees on there if I wanted to derail the tape entirely. If not for Psycho Realm and Onyx, I’d just rewind Side A over and over again.